I attended Senator Sanders’ meeting Thursday evening in Rutland to address the Comcast situation. I learned a lot, mainly about just how unfair Comcast is treating Vermonters and just how poor their customer service is. I also learned a lot about how much Vermonters value their cable access. I learned that some communities in Vermont have several choices for cable providers, some communities only have a couple choices, and some communities have just the one choice. I would like to remind people, though, that cable television is not our only source of news and entertainment (which is what cable television provides.) We have quite a few other sources, and they are much more affordable than Comcast Cable.
First, we have radio. It may seem old fashioned, but we actually do have a really great radio station in Vermont that provides a wide variety of programming. That station is Vermont Public Radio (VPR). VPR has programming that covers state news (Vermont Edition), national news (Morning Edition and All Things Considered) and international news (BBC Newshour and BBC World Service). VPR also provides news coverage for some niche subjects such as Sports (Only a Game), the environment (Living on Earth), and the economy (Marketplace and Marketplace Money). But, VPR is not limited to news coverage; VPR programming is entertaining. Whether it be an old fashioned variety-type show (Prairie Home Companion) or a short story (Selected Shorts) or a live performance (the Capitol Steps). Let’s not forget the ever popular Car Talk or Wait, Wait...Don’t Tell Me! VPR even attempts a family game night style party game with Says You! VPR even addresses religious faith with the program Speaking of Faith. And this is only a smattering of VPR’s offerings. Really, VPR provides something for everyone.
Second, we have our local newspapers (yes, the very one you are reading right now). Here in Vermont we have several daily newspapers as well as countless weekly newspapers. And of course you can find national newspapers. Between all of them, you can easily keep yourself informed.
Third, we have our often overlooked local libraries. Practically every town has one, just look at the summer Things To Do section for all the library book sales if you need evidence of how many libraries we have. Libraries are about more than books these days. They keep copies of local and sometimes even the national newspapers. Many are starting to keep collections of videos and DVDs that patrons may borrow. You might even be able to get free internet access. Whether you want news or entertainment, you should be able to find it at the library.
You’ll recall that at the beginning of my letter I mentioned the affordability of these options. They’re all affordable. Probably more affordable than Comcast Cable. Radio is free, though VPR always graciously accepts donations of any amount. If you’ve ever listened during a pledge drive you’ve heard them say it: whatever donation amount is right for you, is right for them. Even if you only set aside half of what you currently pay for Comcast Cable and donated that amount once a year, VPR would be thrilled to receive your contribution. They might even send you a thank you gift, which is something I’ll bet Comcast hasn’t ever done.
Some of the newspapers, namely the weekly publications, are also free. And there are a couple that do a very nice job of covering the local political meetings and school board meetings. The daily newspapers, though not free, are affordable. And if the cost of a newspaper truly is a problem, you have the third option: your local library. If it is your local library, there is no cost for a library card. For the larger libraries, there is a yearly fee, but I’m sure the yearly fee is still less than the cost of Comcast Cable for a year.
If none of this has convinced you that these are relevant options, let me just say this: these are all local options. You can talk to the people making the decisions and tell them if you don’t like something. They’ll probably listen to you. Plus, you don’t have to wait for Senator Sanders to get all fired up to be able to talk to these people face to face. You can do it when you run into them at the grocery store.
If Comcast insists on treating Vermonters with little respect or fairness, then we need to remember where we can get respect and fairness: with our local radio stations, newspapers, and libraries.